Domestic Prowess Rising

It’s Sunday, at the end of a week long holiday break. In China, the national holiday break coincides with the MidAutumn (or Moon) Festival. It’s very mythology based, which is fascinating, history-wise. In every grocery store and on many food carts, you’ll see moon cakes. Moon cakes are either a flaky or soft crust “pie”-like item, and the flavors range from sweet to savory. Some sweet flavors I encountered were red bean paste (don’t knock red bean paste until you try it!), coconut, rose and lotus seed, and anise seed flavoring (otherwise known as licorice). Savory flavors are shredded pork, green bean paste (okay, I’ll admit that it grossed me out – nothing like mushed green beans), and shredded beef (very select). They are stamped with characters, which I can’t read. When I bought several of them and went to eat one a few days later, I had no idea what kind was which. I do, however, know which was the green bean paste. I had to lick a sugar cube afterwards.

So, if you wonder how I got a week off in October, it wasn’t just because I survived five days in Beijing with 50+ 7th graders (the other half of the group I was not in charge of – we have 109 kids total in 7th grade), though I’m glad we had a week to recover. For as sore as my legs were when I got home, I was grateful that I didn’t have to stand all day. Just sitting down was issue enough when my thigh and calf muscles were on fire…

Friday night was punctuated by a visit to an area of the city called Xintiandi, a pretty Westernized sort of area with old-style European architecture. At least, there were tons of tourists, and it became a sort of game to try and figure out where they were from just based on clothes, how big their camera was, and what they taking pictures of. It’s amazing how often I find myself – and friends I’m with – as a tourist attraction. I must be in a lot of family photo albums already.

We went to see the movie Looper, which I’m still mentally sorting out, and then had a drink at 1930 Xintiandi. People watching is such a fascinating thing to do in a tourist area, on a Friday night, in a huge tourist-spot. Free entertainment.

Other than popping out and about in the city, I sort of holed up in my apartment, cleaned (boring), read (sort of interesting – started on my new assortment of Brit Lit from the bookstore), and wandered aimlessly through grocery stores when I wasn’t being a spinster lady (without cats). The best part was the culinary part of my vacation – trying out different street foods and also picking up odd items here and there from stores, really just to try it.

I also gave in and bought a meat grinder, which isn’t something I thought I’d own any time soon. I sort of like my meat pre-ground without having to rip and tear and hear it squishing through the grinder. Shudder. However, since ground meat commands a higher price than just strips of meat or roast-size meat, a meat grinder is an economical choice. So, I whipped out the lamb steaks I bought at Metro (a Costco/Sam’s Club type of place), defrosted them, and tried out the meat grinder. I have to say, after I figured out how to get it stabilized – it was slipping all over my countertop like a wet fish – the process was smooth. I went all Little House on the Prairie on that lamb.

Now that I’m one step closer to domestic goddessdom, I’m feeling fulfilled that my kitchen in Shanghai is returning to its former state – what I had in my cabinets back home. I bought a hand-mixer to satisfy my primal domestic urge to make breads (whole wheat rosemary foccacia) and do some baking. My spice cabinet is getting fuller; I have basic baking necessities like baking soda, baking powder, chocolate chips, Baker’s chocolate, shredded coconut, slivered almonds, walnuts, canned pumpkin, various types of flour (rice, bread, whole wheat, all-purpose), and three types of sugar (brown, granulated, and raw). I have found Splenda and Equal in some Western stores, but I’m doing my best to wean myself from fake sugars, no matter how “healthy” they are. There are few low-fat or no-fat options, and sugar-free is almost impossible to find, save for a few things like Smuckers’ jams or digestive biscuits. In a way, this is probably a better option.

Enter Pinterest. I was a member before arriving here, but thanks to another new teacher, I’ve become very much addicted to checking it daily for useful things to pin to my boards. Thanks to Pinterest, I have several new hair styles for my ultra-long hair (the longest it’s been in at least 5-6 years), 40+ pumpkin recipes to try (I highly recommend pumpkin French toast, pumpkin coffee creamer, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, and pumpkin pie coffee syrup), and useful “I-should-know” things like short crust pastry recipes and how to make a knock-off pumpkin spice latte (since they don’t have those at our Starbucks…yet…).

Tonight I put together two amazing things: British comfort food and homemade short crust. When I was in the UK, I pretty much loved the food. Strange to think of British food as being good, but it’s come along in the last few decades thanks to my hero Gordon Ramsey, Nigella Lawson (my heroine), and Jaime Oliver, aka The Naked Chef. There are many others, of course, but these three are my food gods. I’ve been plucking up their cookbooks here and there, and life will be excellent once I get my bookshelf in the kitchen for dish storage as well as cookbook storage.

Two of my cookbooks, which I regrettably left in the States, are Regional Irish Pub Dishes and Traditional British Homestyle Cooking. Though I’m sure I may never eat Marmite or make spotted dick (oh my!), I love me some Cornish pasties. My favorite pasty I had in Bath, just as it started to rain and dusk was settling in. The little restaurant was somewhere near the Promenade – I’ll admit that I might have been a little confused as to my bearings (but not lost), and I was in need of hot tea and food before getting back on the bus to Oxford. The owner was a friendly guy, the sort of stereotypical older British gentleman, who took pity on me in my rainy state and fixed fresh English breakfast tea for me in a takeaway mug and said I should try the lamb and mint pasty. It was so warm and buttery-smelling, and when I took the first bite, I’m pretty sure I melted like an ice cream cone on the Fourth of July. There was a pun there – wait for it, wait for it…

What better food to have on a cool, rainy, British afternoon? I think I made the guy’s day when I told him it was amazing. I tried a beef and rutabaga one, but I was still hooked on the lamb and mint. I tried to replicate it last year with ground lamb (super expensive in the States, super inexpensive here) and dried mint with rutabaga, but it wasn’t the same. Wasn’t it Proust that went on and on for books from the taste of one cookie and how it evoked powerful memories? Well, I won’t go on for pages here, but this combination wasn’t quite it – at least, not the reduced-fat Pillsbury crescent roll dough I used in place of proper short crust.

With my freshly ground lamb and organic mint sprigs from Fields market, I figured I may as well have a second go at recreating the pasty. I found the aforementioned short crust recipe on Pinterest, made it my own by adding fresh chopped rosemary, sea salt, and ground colored pepper, and mixed up chopped mint, the ground lamb, minced up potatoes, salt, pepper, and a touch of shallot for the filling. The scent of the baking rosemary crust filled my apartment, making me ready for dinner long before the timer went off.

Oh. My. Goodness. When I bit into the hot pasty, it was Bath, in the rain, and the small little cafe again.  A memory between layers of dough. Dipped in a bit of English mustard, my dinner was complete. I’ll post the recipe – some time this busy week!

Time for a cup of English Breakfast.

Lamb, mint, and potato Cornish pasty with rosemary short crust. Very tasty with English mustard.

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